Fanselow certainly knows how to attract a veteran teacher’s attention. That is no small matter. As an EFL teacher of Deaf and Hard of Hearing students I don’t actually expect authors to be familiar with my specific classroom setting. I’m used to adapting everything. However, I do need strategies that are applicable for teachers in the national school system with a full work load.
For starters, there’s the title. I never would have chosen a book for my blogging challenge that called for “overhauling your teaching”! “Small Changes”, one “tweak a time” – now we’re talking.
Now forget the title. Take a look at this from the foreword, which Amazon lets you read for free without purchasing the book (No, this is not one of those blogs that has the blogger earning money from clicks on Amazon…):
“My suggestion is for you to be as skeptical about your present practices as the alternatives I urge you to try.”
“…you must not only not believe anything I say but anything anyone else says. Do one of your usual activities, make a small change and compare the effects, over and over and over.”
Fanselow is offering me a “win – win” situation.
A small change leads to better results? Win!
The old way gets better results? Now there’s a reason and a rationale for doing things this way. Win!
Join me on this blogging challenge as I experiment in class, starting off with the effects of “Read and Look Up” on my students!
Students aren’t the only ones to whom Bloom’s Taxonomy (the revised version) relates to.
Just look at teachers grading finals, during exam “high season”, and see for yourself.
“Recognizing or recalling knowledge from memory.”
Remembering the ghosts of previous piles of exam notebooks during “exam high season”. Recalling that you did vanquish them and even did so on schedule (thanks to the fun activities you didn’t partake in…). Remembering not to think of the ghosts of future exam piles…
“Constructing meaning from different types of functions be they written or graphic messages…”
Constructing meaning from graphic messages otherwise known as students’ handwriting. Trying to decipher letters written in an exam notebook which form words you didn’t recognize at first because they had no business being used in the sentence they were placed in. Understanding that grinding your teeth in frustration isn’t worth it because your dental bills may exceed your salary.
“Applying relates to or refers to situations where learned material is used…”
From many years of experience you have learned that “simple” exams (testing a lower level of English, such as Module A) can be checked efficiently one at a time, on your lap, in a waiting room, a crowded teacher’s room or anywhere else. Exams at higher levels are more efficiently checked on a table where they can be slightly spread out and checked in batches, per question.
“Breaking materials or concepts into parts, determining how the parts relate to one another…”
Parts, huh? Identifying “parts” is the easy “part” . But how does a teacher fit them all in? You know, time wise?
Grading exams, recording grades digitally, preparing review material and repeat exams, doing housework, dealing with the crowded pre-holiday shopping scene, familial obligations, meeting with friends and relatives you don’t see often enough, attending gym classes, taking pictures, blogging and sleeping…
“Making judgments based on criteria…”
Judging whether it is worth the extra weight and inconvenience of carrying the exam notebooks with you wherever you go so you may take advantage of every single spare moment to keep on grading. Evaluating the advantage of the former strategy vs the unthinkable danger of forgetting the exam notebooks somewhere…
“…reorganizing elements into a new pattern or structure…”
Now that you think you have finished grading the exams you must create another version of every test for the “retake day” . Don’t worry, management cares enough to worry about you being in danger of suffering from “hubris” due to having prepared an extra version while creating the original exams. Therefore, an extra special exam date will be added at the last-minute so don’t even dream of saying goodbye to the photo copying machine. There’s creating to be done…
HANG IN THERE FELLOW TEACHERS! THANKFULLY THERE’S SO MUCH MORE TO TEACHING THAN GRADING EXAMS!!!!!!!!!!!!
Spelling, grammar, vocabulary – it is well known that these skills improve the more students practice their writing. Naturally, when students have an authentic audience to write for, they are markedly more motivated to pay attention to their writing.
In addition to all that goodness, I discover time and again that such a kind of writing leads to many other meaningful things as well. Meaningful for both the students and the teacher.
I just want to share the joy!
My lovely co-teacher just gave birth and I opened a Padlet virtual wall so that the students could write congratulatory notes for her. My teenage students like Padlet’s cool backgrounds and the ease in which they can edit and add pictures. So it’s always a good choice for me. The students were eager to wish their teacher well – no prodding was necessary. It’s good for a teacher to be reminded that the students care!
MOTIVATION – Got that covered! CHECK!
One student wished the teacher “good health and happy” so we talked about happy vs happiness. Another expressed hope that the teacher would come back next year with ” new powers”, which is a direct translation from Hebrew. So we discussed leaving “the powers” for the superheros and went with “lots of energy”. In short, the kind of discussions an English teacher expects to have, you know what I mean. Some mistakes I did not correct or point out – going over each note with a fine tooth comb would have been counter productive.
VOCABULARY – SYNTAX – GRAMMAR – CHECK!
One student started to write his note saying that he hopes the teacher feels better again soon and will come back to class as soon as possible… We had a talk about the fact that having a baby is not like being sick and in any case the teacher won’t come back soon, she’s on maternity leave. I had a similar talk with a girl in a different group who wanted to write a note but claimed she only knows what to say when someone is ill. We mentioned useful phrases for this situation in L1 as well. Other students did not have this problem and even asked for pictures!
PROMOTING SOCIAL SKILLS – CHECK!
One student wrote a particularly long note. Half of the note was devoted to telling the teacher to make sure her husband takes care of the baby too. A sample sentence: “you gave the new baby for the world and father need to do something also.hahah :)”. It was a strong reminder of the student’s own “thorny” fatherhood woes and how it must be an issue close to his heart. I did not point out any errors at all on this student’s note…
INSIGHTS INTO WHAT’S ON STUDENTS’ MINDS – CHECK!
I saw one student having Google translate an entire paragraph typed in L1. I was about to protest strongly (they are not supposed to do that in class!) until I saw what she had written. The kind of “flowery blessing”, which was obviously something she had encountered at home, was important to her. “This is the right thing to say when someone has a baby”, she said with a big smile. The student would not have been able to produce sentences such as the following on her own: “That the sun on you will always shine. And your family will grow and blossom. That they sow endless love”. So I just smiled back and didn’t say a word.
LEARNING ABOUT STUDENTS’ CULTURAL BACKGROUND – CHECK!
In short, wishing someone else well, in written English, did us all good!
I needed a direct, no frills approach, to highlight my point this time.
My high school students’ final exams (internal and then national) are coming up. In between we have holidays and school trips (not to mention a slew of lectures), all cancelling lessons.
The clock is ticking.
It’s time to pick my fights – review skills most of my struggling learners have been able to employ successfully when they actually remember to keep them in mind.
What’s more, I have discovered that using the word “trap” seems to awaken a competitive streak in some of the students, so I’ve decided to capitalize on their awakened interest.
I told the students that whomever it is that writes the national final exams knows that some students have a system for answering multiple choice questions on reading comprehension tasks. A system that doesn’t require reading. These students simply look for words that look alike in the options and in the text and then choose their answer without further investigation. For example:
The Sentence from the Text
The Wrong Answer
1. Mr. Jay invested 11 million dollars in the football team.
X Mr. Jay earned 11 million dollars from the football team.
Such students see the words “11 million dollars” and fall blithely into the trap the exam writer has set. They distractor that “looks-alike” is the wrong one (“Duh”, my strong students would say, but this is not for them)!
So, I challenged the students to outsmart the exam writers and not fall into the “look-alike” trap that has been set for them.
Together we examined 8 sentences, which I have modified from actual national exams (I had to modify the sentences to make them clear when being read out of context) and corresponding incorrect answers chosen by unknown students who had forgotten about the “traps”. I didn’t worry about vocabulary – I supplied any glosses needed. The students led the activity, almost all of them were able to explain why the answer chosen was incorrect. Or, to rephrase, what caused the unknown student who picked such an answer (they, of course, would never do such a thing!) to do so.
The fact that the students were able to analyze the errors successfully with hardly any guidance on my part (mainly glossing or adding context) didn’t mean the activity was too easy.
Quite the opposite.
They seemed to feel empowered. They could avoid a trap! They weren’t going to lose 8 points over nothing!
But will all of this actually come into play when the students take their national finals?
That remains to be seen…
Here is the worksheet I used. The downloadable document contains two versions – one with the “critical” words underlined, and the other with no hints whatsoever. I used the version without any words underlined.
***Remember – this is not a worksheet for self-study. It is the discussion that matters. I was even able to sneak in a reminder about superlatives…
It is so easy to imagine the situation, because we’ve encountered it. The children are curious about the “new kid in class”. Someone asks “the new kid” to play, but he doesn’t respond. It seems to the children that he is ignoring the invitation and that angers them.
How can we talk to students about those children who do want to be friendly but might not respond in a familiar way?
Erin Human knows how to present a subject in a way children can relate to. Even better, her winning combination of pictures and simple text “Social Skills for Everyone” make the infographic sideshow suitable for learners of English as a foreign language as well. And that’s a lucky break because inclusion is a very real issue that needs to be discussed in class. New immigrants , children with a hearing problem, children on the Autism spectrum and more – you will find them all in the so-called “regular” classrooms.
Head over to Erin Human’s blog to see the complete slide show “Social Skills for Everyone” . Erin has kindly permitted me to share the link (given below) to download the slide show as a PDF file for use in class.
You know that teaching the literature component of the high-school EFL program has influenced you when…
Getting a beautiful piece of artwork as a post reading task on the book “The Wave” makes you ridiculously happy…
You foolishly carry too many books and papers in the hallway and manage to drop half. A few kind students, whom you’ve never seen before, help gather the scattered items. You thank them but what you really REALLY want to say is “Well, you can now count this day as not lost”!
The name of the game “Quoits” was a new addition to your vocabulary, but you are old enough to remember that “Patience” was the name for “Solitaire” when it was played with real cards.
4. When you reach the sentence about Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones’ icebox, it suddenly dawns on you that it might not be such a good idea to suggest that the kids talk to their grandparents for further information about ice boxes. If some of the students’ parents were once students of mine, then I’ll soon be the age of their grandparents. I seem to have been in the classroom forever yet I never had an icebox…
5. You find yourself pondering the fact that youactually took the road most taken by women, becoming a teacher, a wife, a mother, a daughter (of parents in their “golden years”) , juggling roles while trying to exercise and blog too. Which naturally leads to the question whether I shall be telling this with a sigh of joy or regret ages and ages hence… Or perhaps the question of whether there will be anyone interested in listening…
6. You have to bite your tongue every time you reach the end of the story “The Rules of The Game” – Waverly had no more moves to plot! I read “The Joy Luck Club” by Amy Tan, I know what happened! From the moment Waverly supposedly insulted her mother, she never won a chess match again!!! Unlike Waverly’s mother, we teachers do give students second chances (and third, or more) but that isn’t something I can point out to the students because their story ends before that. Maybe it’s just as well…
7. You actually feel the weight of all the hours /topics cut from the national curriculum, particularly history. Over the years more extensive background information of all sorts is needed for the stories and poems, ranging from the rise of the Nazi Movement to the fact that the early African-Americans DID NOT come voluntarily to the US as illegal immigrants who decided to stay…
Forget the students for a moment – how has teaching literature in the EFL classroom affected YOU?
Funny how things work. My blog was “sniffed at” and then mentioned on a list of recommended blogs in the same week! A week which just happened to lead up to this blog’s SEVENTH BIRTHDAY!
The other day I met a teacher who said he has a blog. A blog about a very specific topic, totally not EFL or language related. When I said I also had a blog, he wanted to know what it was about.
And I hesitated.
What is the blog about?
It’s not only about teaching English to Deaf and hard of hearing students.
It’s not only about teaching English.
Sometimes it’s just about being a teacher.
Or even about being a book-lover.
So I hesitated.
Then I replied “It’s about education”.
He looked at me as if he were holding back the words “yeah, right”, sniffed in disdain and walked away.
I can see it from his point of view. How worthwhile could the blog be if the blogger has trouble answering the simple question “what is your blog about”? “Education” is an extremely broad topic…
“Ha!” I thought to myself and smiled. Time works in my favor here, because I happen to know that not knowing what the blog is about works. Seven years have gone by and writing on the blog still helps me put my thoughts in order and reflect. 685 posts have been posted and read by people, even though 98% of my readers do not teach English to Deaf and hard of hearing students. I’ve even passed the 2, 030 mark in Twitter followers…
The decision to frame my long-term classroom observations in the format of an extremely informal “research” was inspired by a post by Leo Selivan on ELT Research Bites – a collaborative initiative to bridge the gap between researchers and practitioners.
a – How far can a student advance in terms of reading comprehension exam levels in EFL, based solely on rote memorization of vocabulary, with little to no comprehension at all of the texts?
b – Do students who memorize discreet vocabulary items very well, but have little or no comprehension of the texts, perform better on exams than students with poor retention of vocabulary but with better comprehension of texts?
Rote memorization – Students who spend time successfully memorizing lists of isolated vocabulary items along with their meaning in L1. Memory measured by number of correct translations of aforementioned word lists and the frequency in which the student turns to the dictionary during an exam.
Degree of comprehension of texts
Students degree of comprehension of the texts on the reading comprehension sections of matriculation exams is assessed in two ways:
a – The number of correctly answered reading comprehension questions that require use of a higher order thinking skill in order to answer them. Particularly the skills of “cause and effect”, “comparing and contrasting” and “identifying different perspectives”.
b – Conversations in mother tongue with the student about the text after the exam. Such conversations are intended to help the student understand the errors made.
Six high-school students, divided into two groups. All students were born with a moderate to severe hearing loss but either cochlear implants or hearing aids help them significantly. They all speak clearly and can communicate (at least one-on-one) using residual hearing and lip-reading. Only one of the six does not know sign language at all. All students have been my students for two to four years. Both groups are current students who are also similar to many generations of students I have taught over the last 30 years.
Group one – Three students who have strong vocabulary retention skills. They are hard workers and they can memorize a word list for an exam perfectly. All three have very poor language skills in the language of instruction at school (a combination of Hebrew and sign language when needed) which is not their L1. They all come from families who speak other languages, two of which are immigrant families. Two of them come from families with limited education and all three were not exposed to direct language enrichment at home (which is recommended when raising a child with a hearing loss). Their writing in Hebrew is poor with many errors. They can write, in high school, sentences such as this “See accident in ambulance man hospital ” in Hebrew. Their general knowledge is dismal, extremely limited.
Group two – Three students who have significant difficulties in remembering the words provided for exams. While their language skills in L1 are also in need of improvement, they are far better than those of the first group. Their vocabulary in Hebrew is richer, their writing is better and their general knowledge is significantly wider. Two of the students come from educated families.
The performance of both groups were compared on three of the four levels of external matriculation exams given in Israel – Modules A, C and E. The grades were compared and conversations about the texts held in Hebrew and sign langauge.
On the lowest level, Module A, (roughly the equivalent of an A2 level on the CEFR scale ) the students from the rote-memorization group had errors in questions that required any sort of comparison, inference or understanding a different point of view. They also had significant difficulties in understanding why their answer was wrong. Here’s an example
The text in the reading passage stated that Max was on a ship carrying gold. Pirates came to the ship and Max was afraid. He then jumped overboard. The question asked about the reason why the pirates came to the ship. These students replied that Max was afraid of the pirates or that he jumped overboard. They believed they were correct because they could point to that in the text.
However, there are not many questions that require higher order thinking skills in Module A . The students in the rote memory group preformed as well as or better than the students in the other group because they were able to translate the text with less effort.
2. On the next level, Module C, (more or less similar to the level B1 on the CEFR scale) there are more questions that require higher order thinking skills. However, the texts are much longer. The students with poor vocabulary retention skills had to use the electronic dictionary much more frequently and had more trouble finishing the exam on time. Some of them felt tired and got discouraged fairly quickly. In the beginning both groups scored badly but group b understood the cause of their errors better. With time both groups improved their grades with group A (rote-memory) lagging at least 10 points behind, but certainly passing the exam with grades of approximately 70 (55 is considered a passing grade).
3. On the third level, Module E, (more or less level B2 on the CEFR scale) most questions require quite an in-depth understanding of the text. Higher order thinking skills are needed in order to answer many questions. Both groups fail the exams at this level at first but the rote-memory group do not improve in any significant way. The other group finds the exam very difficult but the grades improve steadily during the school year. They do not achieve more than average grades, however.
My very informal classroom “research” indicates that the ability to memorize well large numbers of discrete vocabulary items can enable a struggling student to achieve moderate success on Modules A and C, despite extremely poor language skills and severely limited general knowledge This does not hold true for Module E. However, since a student can fail module E and still be eligible for a full matriculation certificate, this is very significant.
In addition, at the initial stages of the year, the skill of memorizing vocabulary enables the students in group A to do at least as well if not better than their peers in group B. It also gives them a sense of pride and achievement. However, those in group A are not usually able to hold their lead.
I believe that rote memorization has a significant place when working with students struggling with very poor language skills despite it’s known drawbacks and limitations.
While the title of Tyson Seburn’s fascinating post is “Serial Podcast for Extensive Reading”, I was only able to focus on the novel idea of using transcripts of an incredibly popular podcast tale for a book club when I read the post the second time.
The first time I read the post I was totally floored by the team work of Tyson’s staff and how a team can promote an instructional goal. Working with the constraints of time and not overburdening the staff, they set up a virtual book club program to promote extensive reading across the board, including all students and teachers. It is more than just a division of labor.
If you think the expression “floored” is a bit dramatic, consider the following. I’m currently working my way through a book called “The Power of Teacher Teams” by Troen & Boles. It talks about how truly good teacher teams not only help lessen the load of the individual teacher but actually improve students’ academic achievements. Sounds wonderful, right? Reading Tyson Seburn’s post had me fantasizing there for a short while that our multi disciplined staff of special education teachers could promote extensive reading in the students’ mother tongue in such a manner. An art teacher, math teacher, history and civics teacher should also be able to promote reading, right? Many Deaf and hard of hearing students do not like to read. Reading improves academic achievement across the board, so every teacher should be on board with this goal. At least in theory…
Unfortunately, the book scares me completely. While writtten in a very readable manner, it makes it clear that it is REALLY hard to get a staff of wonderful teachers to work efficiently together to achieve goals across the board like that. It involves organized sessions devoted to working on team-work skills, preferably having an outside instructor to get everyone to see that it actually matters and could be done.
One of the nice things about people who write blog posts is that they are perfectly happy to answer questions and one can simply write to them. Tyson Seburn confirmed that his staff had also had specific team training sessions.
Anyway, to get back to the question related to using transcripts of a podcast for a book club – I’m all for it. A podcast such as Serial offers a compelling narrative and rich language , with the added bonus of general knowledge.
Personally, I stopped listening to Serial very quickly. I do not like the true crime genre and do not watch such TV shows either. But that’s just me. So let me run the Douglas Adams group in the book club ….
When I read Teresa Bestwick’s short post titled “Minimal Pairs Telephone” I immediately knew that a variation of this would be a hit in my classroom.
The fact that it is such a simple activity to prepare and that the activity is so easy for the students to understand makes it even more appealing.
In addition, it’s fun! Especially with the twist I added.
Teresa used minimal pairs. That’s out of the question when working with students who don’t hear well. The difference between words such as “fit” and “feet” is very hard to hear and to see on the lips. So I decided to practice the “Magic E”. The words with the magic E have longer sounds and are easier for the students to hear and see. And there is a nice rule one can use.
Since I teach in the format of a learning center, I could not do this activity on the board with the whole class, the way Teresa did it. I needed this activity to be up on the wall to be done individually or in small groups during the week. So I used 10 index cards, and attached them to an existing activity board (little pockets for flashcards).
Above each word there is a number, zero to nine.
First I asked each student what the difference is between the words that look mostly similar (hat /hate). They all noticed the letter “e ” at the end. I explained about the Magic E and its effect on pronunciation and said the words out loud. Then I informed them that I was going to say my phone number, but in words!
You may be surprised, but it isn’t so simple to think of a number and then say a word. I found myself wanting to point to each word and it goes slower than rattling off numbers. Try it!
Then it was the student’s turn. To make it more amusing, I asked the students to fold their arms and not point at all and just read off the words of their phone number. I pointed to each word I understood and they had to nod if I had understood them correctly. If they didn’t pronounce the word correctly they had to repeat my example.
The students loved it! I love it! It was great fun for them trying to meet the challenge of not pointing and not getting confused and they all tried hard to say the words correctly. I’ll see how many repetitions we can manage of this activity before moving on to the next one.
One student got a new phone with a different phone number just before school. He could not recall his new phone number. I told him to use his old phone number. The student came back to me later in the day and said he found his new number and asked to repeat the activity!
This year I only have three students who are profoundly Deaf from Deaf families and don’t usually use their voice very much. I had planned in advance that any student who wanted could opt out of a speaking activity and learn to sign the vocabulary items in ASL (American Sign Language) instead. They wanted to speak the words too and did create a difference between how they said the words! No one else would understand their speech, that’s for sure, but even for Deaf students speaking helps retention.
Teaching English as a FOREIGN language to Deaf and Hard of Hearing Students